We left Salento for Pereira and then jumped on a bus to Medellín. Craig and I checked into our basement room at a hostel which I couldn't help but think looked like a prison cell, there was no natural light and the room featured a solo metal bunkbed. We met Carl at Burdo for pizza, the place was full to the brim with locals beginning their night out, dressed in glitzy clothes, they put our worn and slightly dirty backpacker outfits to shame. The decor was clearly designer and the food delicious, we were out of place definitely but enjoyed a special treat dinner.
The next day we met Jorge; a proud Medellín dwelling Colombian who we first met in Foz du Iguazu in Brazil. Jorge had offered to give us a guided tour of his home city when we eventually got to it and I can't believe that after all these many months we are finally here. The first order of the day was to pay a local technology shopping mall a visit in search of a new camera, but after a little browsing we found the prices to be out of our league. Jorge's help with translation was invaluable though and the trip helped us to narrow down exactly what camera we'd like to get as an exact replacement of our Canon 750d would be far too expensive, even on Amazon the price has increased since we bought it less than a year ago.
After, Jorge took us to his favourite spot in Medellín, the botanical gardens. As we glided to our stop on the overground metro the clouds gathered and the rain poured. We stopped for a minute but eventually braved it, running through puddles to the garden entrance. We decided to get lunch together at the garden café, the three of us opted for a local bean soup with rice and arepa which is a Colombian corn bread. Oh my goodness, the soup was delicious. Every time I think back to it my mouth waters, on the particularly cloudy and wet day that it was the soup warmed my soul, and that may sound like an exaggeration but it's not! We chatted about Colombia's troubled history and Medellín's unfortunate past life as the centre of Pablo Escobar's drug cartel but Jorge was keen to inform us of how the city and country has changed for the better. And in all honesty it's something that we could already see from our short time there, the city felt safe and welcoming. We wandered slowly around the gardens, the rain had eased making it a pleasurable walk.
We then took the metro to the cable car which is used as an everyday transport link for locals rather than just a tourist activity. The views over Medellín were fantastic and we got off to see the city from a viewpoint but this area in particular did feel a little unsafe so we hopped back on the cable car for a return ride. The bonus with local transport is that it's so incredibly cheap so a quick ride cost practically nothing. Once back on city level we walked to the Museum of Modern Art and saw lots of work; I found the delicate drawings of Jorge Marin to be particularly interesting and some of the paintings of Medellín born Débora Arango were of particularly hard hitting subject matter.
Our second to last stop of the day was to another viewpoint overlooking the city, this one we reached by bus. It was a row of local eateries serving Colombian comfort food, most of which wasn't vegetarian friendly. I had chocolate caliente con queso or hot chocolate with cheese which I was first introduced to in Salento but not brave enough to try. This time I went all in and it wasn't as strange a taste sensation as I was expecting. The heat from the drink caused the cheese to go gooey and somehow they complemented each other though I'm not sure I'll be putting cheddar in my Galaxy hot chocolate at home. The sun was setting and the distant street lamps flickered on, our hot drinks and arepa con queso (corn bread with cheese) were great company. Our final stop was at a bar inside a shopping mall where we all talked travel and hopefully convinced Jorge to plan a trip to Asia in the future. Our day had been jam packed with sights to see, local delicacies to taste and view points and art thrown in too. Without Jorge's guidance we wouldn't nearly have seen all that we did and had such a wonderful day, thank you Jorge!
After our especially busy day with Jorge we spent the next day doing a whole lot of nothing. Our uneventful day allowed for some time to write for me but we also squeezed in a lovely lunch at a café a few doors down.
The following day we met Carl and took him to the botanical gardens, in all honesty I mostly wanted another taste of the delicious soup. Thankfully the weather had improved from our last visit so we were able to visit the small butterfly house and stop to watch the turtles and birds at the lake. Craig and I had tacos for dinner after spending ages looking for an Indian restaurant that turned out to be closed. Luckily all was forgotten when we visited The Chocolate House where we ate desserts to die for.
On our final day we decided to do a Pablo Escobar tour. Craig and Carl were both intent on doing one, especially as they are both fans of the series Narcos. I was a little apprehensive as I wanted our trip to Medellín to be about the city as it is now which is far removed from its cartel past. I tagged along anyway as I didn't want a day alone in the prison-like hotel room. We visited Escobar's simple grave and a building left derelict that was once under siege with Escobar's family inside. Our driver for the day was one of Escobar's drivers, a large man who spoke only Spanish. Our guide translated his words, he told us that if he were to go back in time he would live an honest life. That a life of crime wasn't worth the money that it brought to him and that he is filled with regret. The tour ended at one of Pablo Escobar's houses where we met his 71 year old brother Roberto. The house is used purely as a museum now and contains a motorbike given to Pablo by Frank Sinatra and a jet ski used in a James Bond film. A huge bulletproof car with cracked windows was in the garage next to a little blue car Pablo originally used to smuggle drugs in to Colombia. Bullet holes were present in the walls of the house, rumour has it that money is still buried there and so numerous people have turned up looking for it and failed to find anything. The tour ended with a cup of Colombian coffee and a few words from Roberto which our guide translated and we each had a photograph taken with him. As he wrapped his arm around my waist for the picture I felt torn. Here was an elderly man, polite and well mannered who smiled when I said hola, but I remembered the stories I had heard from our guide, of all the innocent people murdered on Pablo's order in his fight against the government.
I was glad that I went along on the tour. Learning about the past can help to appreciate the present, the history of Pablo Escobar is a complicated and fascinating one. Our guide informed us that the money made from the tour goes towards a charity run by Roberto to fund AIDS research which I hope is true. I left Medellín thinking about all the positives of the city and how it is now, a thriving and beautiful place full of passionate locals, an exceptional art gallery and the best bean soup I've ever tasted.
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